In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Anna May Wong fans her time machine, and: Anna May Wong blows out sixteen candles, and: Anna May Wong meets Josephine Baker, and: Anna May Wong makes cameos, and: Anna May Wong rates the runway
  • Sally Wen Mao (bio)

Anna May Wong fans her time machine

I’ve tried so hard to erase myself.That iconography—my facein Technicolor, the manta ray

eyelashes, the nacre and chignon.I’ll bet four limbs I’d be cast as anotherMongol slave. I will blow a hole

in the airwaves, duck lasers in my dugout.I’m done kidding them. Today I flythe hell out in my Thunderbolt.

To the future, where I’m forgotten.Where surely no one gives a puckwho I kiss: man, woman, or goldfish.

In the blustering garden where I was fedcompliments like you are our goldenapple and you are our yellow star, I lost

my lust for luster. They’d smile, fuckme over for someone else: ringletted womenwith sloping eyelids played the Chinese

cynosure, every time. Ursa Minor, you neverwarned me: all my life I’ve been minor,played the strumpet, the starved one.

I was taproot and crook. How I’ve huncheddown low, wicked girl, until this good earthswallowed me raw. Take me now, dear comet, [End Page 83]

to the future, where surely I’ll playsome girl from LA, the unlikely heroinewho breaks up the brawl, saving everyone. [End Page 84]

Anna May Wong blows out sixteen candles

When I was sixteen, I modeled fur coats for a furrier.White men gazed down my neck like wolves

but my mink collar protected me. When I was sixteen,I was an extra in A Tale of Two Worlds. If I didn’t pour

someone’s tea, then I was someone’s wife. Every brother,father, or husband of mine was nefarious. They held me

at knifepoint, my neck in a chokehold. If they didn’t murderme, I died of an opium overdose. Now it’s 1984

and another white girl awaits her sweet sixteen. It’s 1984and another white girl angsts about a jock who kisses

her at the end of the film. Now it’s 1984 and LongDuk Dong is the white girl’s houseguest. He dances,

drunk, agog with gong sounds. All around the nation,teens still taunt us. Hallways bloat with sweaters, slurs.

When I was eight, the boy who sat behind me brought pinsto class. “Do Asians feel pain the way we do?” he’d ask.

He’d stick the needles to the back of my neck until I winced.I wore six wool coats so I wouldn’t feel the sting. It’s 1984

so cast me in a new role already. Cast me as a pothead,an heiress, a gymnast, a queen. Cast me as a castaway in a city

without shores. Cast me as that girl who rivets center stageor cast me away, into the blue where my lips don’t touch [End Page 85]

or say. If I take my time machine back to sixteen, or twenty,or eight, I’d blow out all my candles. Sixteen wishes

extinguish and burn. The boy will never kiss me at the endof the movie. The boy will only touch me with his needles. [End Page 86]

Anna May Wong meets Josephine Baker

Casino de Paris, seat in the back. It’s 1932 and I’m in exile

again. Paris makes the best kind of exile—the woman on stage

agrees, riding in on her mane of sequined feathers. Horses

like white phantoms galloping under her dress. What is it

about the stage lights that casts our bodies both desirable

and diabolical? She lifts her wings, and air rushes—lightning

strikes the audience, the white feathers fall. I catch her eye

at midnight and she invites me into her dressing room. Blood

orange peels scattered on the ground, her cockatoos wailing

in a cage, her pet cheetah spread-eagled on her alpaca furs.

We toast to Piccadilly, Paris, drink brandy, chat about home—

all the reasons we left, all the reasons we’re...


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pp. 83-93
Launched on MUSE
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